AUSTIN, Texas -- Dalton Santos is known for inflicting pain on kickoff coverage, but he played through some pain of his own on Saturday night.
The Texas freshman linebacker is still grieving after losing both his grandfather and grandmother last week.
His grandmother, Julia Santos, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 76. On Wednesday, her husband, Albert, passed as well. He was 83.
Against New Mexico, their grandson played for them. After recording three special teams tackles in his second career game, Santos told the Longhorn Network he couldn’t have been happier to be on the field.
“I just feel so good inside, honestly. My heart is full of joy, knowing they had the best seat in the house,” Santos said. “They’re upstairs and they’re watching me, and they’re watching me do what I love.
“I just feel so great right now. I feel like I made them proud. I’m overwhelmed with happiness right now, really.”
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound linebacker with the punishing hits and old-school neck roll has earned early fan-favorite status for his disruptive play on kick coverage. In two games he’s already racked up five solo tackles for that unit.
His best yet may have come in the fourth quarter on Saturday, the final of his three stops in Texas’ 45-0 victory.
New Mexico freshman Carlos Wiggins caught Will Russ' kickoff in the middle of his end zone. He passed up the 25 free yards for a chance to make a play. Bad idea.
He planted and cut to his right as he passed the 6-yard line. He didn’t see the kid coming. Neither did his lead blocker.
Four yards and second later, Santos blindsided him. He didn’t jump or dive. He ran right through Wiggins, blasting him from his left in a smooth, high-speed collision.
Then Santos hopped up and celebrated. He’d earned that.
After a week of mourning, Santos tried to push everything aside and take the field with a clear head. This was his escape. All he wanted and needed was a chance to run and hit, simple as that.
“I didn’t think about anything. I tried to play with my emotions, the emotions I had built up all week,” Santos said. “I just tried to go out there and just make plays and try to help my team and do what I had to do as a special teams player.”
Santos could’ve gone home to Van, Texas, this week and no one would’ve faulted him. He was resolute in his decision to stay with the team.
His fellow linebackers had his back when he went home in late August to be with his family, and they had his back when he got the heartbreaking news. Santos felt it was his duty to back his linebackers up, no matter what.
“Man, that crew right there is awesome,” he said. “I love all them guys. Them guys and them guys in that locker room are some of the reasons I didn’t leave.
“They’re my brothers now. Those are the guys I have to play for and those are the guys I have to live for as well. Just that crew alone, they’ve been there for me. I’m there for them. The bond there is unbelievable.”
So was the bond between Albert and Julia Santos.
Together for more than 61 years, the two raised both a large extended family as well as a business, a restaurant in Owentown, Texas.
Their obituary states that they are gone now “to spend eternity together.”
Their funeral is on Saturday. Dalton will be in Mississippi, playing with his brothers.
He’ll be playing for his grandparents, too. He knows they won’t miss it.